Family farm doing big things on outskirts of Sydney


Brownlow Hill is one of the most prominent colonial estates in Australia. Its story begins in 1812 when Governor Macquarie granted farmers large tracts of land to farm cattle in an area called the Cow Pastures, where some of the colony’s lost cattle had been found thriving along the Nepean River. As one of these properties, Brownlow Hill was initially owned by Alexander Macleay, the first colonial secretary of NSW.

Macleay built the elegant homestead and established one of the finest gardens in the colony, much of which remains to this day. It was then leased and finally bought by Jeremiah Downes in 1875. Today, fifth generation Edgar and Lynne Downes live in the restored heritage-listed homestead and sixth generation Henry, Clare and Max Downes live in other buildings on the property.

While the Downes family focussed on dairying for generations, they have evolved their farming practices to deal with drought, dairy industry deregulation, pressure from coal seam gas mining and urban sprawl. And they have diversified beyond agriculture into music festivals and offering location shoots for films, television, and advertising.

Driveway to Brownlow Hill
A sun-drenched Brownlow Hill by the Nepean River. Photo by Paul Henderson-Kelly

Today, the property’s 1,300 hectares spans pastures on the Nepean River’s rich alluvial plains interspersed with less fertile shale hillsides. An organic dairy leases 200 hectares; 100 hectares of river flats and another 100 hectares of irrigated land is planted with Lucerne, which is rotated with oats, sorghum and millet; and 450 hectares are in various stages of restoration to native Cumberland Plain Woodland. In addition, a small beef cattle herd is being established and a sandstone quarry is winding down its operations and will also be restored.

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